The Brooklyn Eagle reports that the New York City Housing and Preservation Department (the NYC agency that inspects private rental housing when bed bug complaints are filed with the city — for example, when tenants call 311 to report bed bugs) has acquired two bed bug sniffing beagles:
The two male beagles, named Mickey and Nemo, began their careers as HPD Housing Maintenance Code inspectors late last week, according to HPD Commissioner Mathew Wambua, who made the announcement Wednesday along with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Gale Brewer, and Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Deputy Commissioner Daniel Kass.
The dogs were acquired and many of the associated costs for the first year — kenneling, equipment, training — were offset using City Council funding.
The New York Observer cited City Council Member Gale Brewer, longtime anti-bed bug crusader, as saying that the dogs are 98% accurate.
That 98% accuracy statistic comes from this 2008 study, and as the abstract notes, the 98% accuracy was found in a controlled experiment in hotel rooms.
(Note that you can find the full text of this study by searching for “bed bug canine scent detection” on the Armed Forces Pest Management Board Literature Retrieval System.)
Cue the pro- vs. anti-beagle canine scent detection lobbies.
However, it’s worth noting that while that study demonstrated bed bug sniffing canines could be 95-98% effective in various types of scenarios, these have been controlled tests and the results do not necessarily correlate to how (a) a particular dog team performs in the field, or (b) how canine scent detection teams perform in the field more generally.
The Observer also noted:
On the topic of private firms Ms. Brewer added, “Unfortunately some dogs aren’t highly trained when you call a private contractor. These dogs the HPD have are very highly trained.”
Clearly, training and handling can vary a great deal. We have heard some awful stories.
Even if a dog is initially obtained from a good trainer, that is not enough; we’re told that regardless of the skills of the original trainer, rigorous continued training by the handler on a daily basis is needed for bed bug-sniffing dogs.
Although I fear that many, if not most, canine scent detection dogs may not be as accurate in the field as the statistics from controlled tests suggest, many of them can be a useful tool for hunting down bed bugs, especially when you have a lot of spaces to search.
Any tools which may help HPD inspectors do their jobs well — and help more NYC residents find out if they have bed bugs or not — are very welcome as far as I am concerned.
Does anyone know who trained these dogs?
Is the handler going to verify a dog alert by visually searching for evidence?
Or does this two-dog HPD team constitute a (more controversial) two-dog verification system?
If you know the answers to these questions, please leave a comment below!
Finally, if you’re thinking of hiring a canine scent detection team, please read our FAQ on canine scent detection first!
Update (11/17): The Associated Press notes that the cost for acquiring the dogs and for their first year of care is $69,000, and that they handed out three violations to landlords on their first day of work.
And this Wall Street Journal article (log-in required) suggests the city will be sending each team out to up to twelve homes a day — suggesting they won’t be part of a two-dog verification system. We hope the handlers are conducting visual verifications following dog alerts — a method which seems to be recommended by most experts.
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